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Anger Management

  • by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Anger Management

from Film Forum, 04/17/03

Last year's critically acclaimed Punch–drunk Love could have been titled Anger Management. In it, Adam Sandler played a man prone to explosions of rage. His temper was finally tamed by the grace of a compassionate woman seemingly made for him.

This year, there is a movie called Anger Management, and Adam Sandler does indeed play the character on the receiving end of the lesson. Ironically, his temper in this film is not nearly as explosive. But when his therapist Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson) goes to work on him, anger becomes a serious problem indeed. And, to listen to the critics who have seen the film, it is not just Sandler who has a healthy degree of anger by the time the credits roll.

I have to add my own review to the list of those warning potential viewers that this is a movie to avoid. (Unfortunately, the movie is already this week's box–office champion.)

Director Peter Segal can be proud of the list of actors he's had the opportunity to work with. Sandler and Nicholson are joined by Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly, Harry Dean Stanton, Heather Graham, and Woody Harrelson. But that's about all Segal can be proud of. All of these talents are wasted on material that rarely rises above gutter humor, and that invests time and energy in a game of second–guessing that grows tiresome and implausible. Watching Anger Management is like going to the NBA All–Star Game, and seeing a fantastic team take the floor, but when the game begins you realize that the action doesn't mean much.

Geri Pare (Catholic News Service) says, "Segal takes a reasonably funny premise … but goes for cheap laughs involving transvestite hookers, making Buddhist monks turn to violence, and jealous lesbians. The constant sexual references are at gutter level, and for a movie aimed at Sandler's target audience of impressionable pre–teen and teen males, the emphasis on how male anatomical size really matters is not a good—or even funny—message to send."

Movieguide's critic says, "Anger Management sounds fun, but it has several major problems. First, the significant plot device in the movie revolves around Dave's insecurity about his 'manhood' and how it 'measures up' to the general populace. Secondly, the movie has every deviant behavior one could imagine to 'color' the film, including scatological humor and distasteful homosexual jokes. These objectionable elements add only mildly to the humor of the story and drag the movie quickly and permanently into the category of '13–year–old, locker room humor.'"

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) testifies, "The more I watched this movie, the angrier I got. I think it was all of the injustice people committed against each other or got away with; it just seemed unfair. Instead of the characters' behavior coming off as funny or rude, sometimes it seemed cruel—and by the end of the movie, the defensive behavior is so exhausting, I didn't enjoy the movie. Save your money and time on this one."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "But it is no surprise to find that a brilliant premise treated sophomorically by Sandler's Happy Gilmore Productions results in a sophomoric film. This effort is far beneath Nicholson's talents. Poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly edited, this film wastes more opportunities for humor than it uses."

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) asks, "How bad is Anger Management? It's so bad that if you added up all the badness from Sandler's earlier movies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, etc.), it still wouldn't equal the astronomical amount of badness in [this movie.]" He takes apart the film piece by piece, right up to its conclusion, and then says, "Nothing that comes before can prepare you for the Yankee Stadium experience. Let's just say that Rudy Giuliani should never be allowed to act again. That millions will actually pay to see it this weekend depresses me more than I can say."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) says, "Remember those kids who'd trap a bee and a wasp in a mayonnaise jar just to watch them go at it? They're the target audience for Anger Management. It's parents who trust the MPAA rating who'll need an encounter group after the credits roll. In addition to being obsessed with penis size, this vulgar film jokes about incest, masturbation, homosexuality, oral sex, sodomy, pornography, transsexual prostitution and bestiality. [The movie] approves of premarital sex and suggests that no measures—including mental cruelty—are too extreme if they accomplish a worthy goal."

Michael Medved (Crosswalk) says it "delivers so many of the key elements of CLASSic comedy that the movie's nagging and altogether unnecessary flaws can make you, well, furious." He adds, "The PG–13 rating for Anger Management is, quite simply, an outrage. The kinky sexual material … [makes] this movie wildly inappropriate for most fourteen years olds, let alone the nine and ten year olds who regularly flock to PG–13 material."

Mainstream critics are equally frustrated with the film. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun–Times) says, "The concept is inspired. The execution is lame. Anger Management, a film that might have been one of Adam Sandler's best, becomes one of Jack Nicholson's worst." You can peruse other mainstream reviews of the film here.


Hulking Rage

An epidemic of anger at the cineplex.

by Jeffrey Overstreet
Books & Culture, September/October 2003